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The Importance of Group Therapy in Addiction Treatment

There is an overwhelming link between addiction and loneliness. From some, loneliness is a trigger for substance abuse and for most addicts it is often the result.

You can define loneliness as anxiety, depression or sadness in relation to the feeling of being alone. Feeling lonely does not automatically relate to social isolation as one can be alone and not feel lonely at all, likewise, one can be surrounded by people whilst feeling lonely. Loneliness is a risk factor for substance use as people turn to drugs and alcohol to ease the negative emotions, as well as help them through social interactions. Drugs and alcohol therefore act as a Band-Aid for emotions; temporarily solving the problem but not ever getting to the root of the issue. This means that as soon as the substance wears off, the feelings return and the person experiencing them will rely on substances to feel better again – thus perpetuating the cycle of addiction.

The link between addiction and loneliness deepens, as addiction causes further isolation. This may be because the addict tries to hide their addiction from others, or that the need to use substances is so intense that it results in the addict detaching from anything or anyone that may get in the way. An addict’s number one priority is to use, which is driven by their need to feel better and by detaching from their family, friends and overall support structure (so that they can continue using with no obstacles), and so they inadvertently create their own reality of social isolation. This only heightens their sense of loneliness, leaving them to feel as though the only thing they have in the world is using. One can see why addiction is also known as ‘the disease of isolation’.

Knowing this, we can begin to understand how important the role of connection is for addiction recovery. By nature, humans are social creatures and thrive off building and maintaining connections with others. It allows us to feel accepted, understood and adds to our overall happiness – spiritually, physically and mentally. This is why group therapy becomes so important in treatment as it is a safe place where likeminded people are able to meet and connect – sharing their journey of recovery with one another. Group therapy sessions are designed to promote communication between all members, from the chairs placed in a circle so that each member can see all the other members with ease – to the qualified practitioners ready to guide the conversations. Everything about group therapy encourages open, honest and considerate communication.

Through promoting connection on a verbal level, the group therapy session becomes a forum of self-expression. Here addicts can find their voice, give and receive support and learn new and appropriate social skills. By watching others speak and hearing stories that they can relate to, they gain confidence to share their own stories. This not only allows them to see their situations from different perspectives, but also gives them the opportunity to help others. The group becomes a safety net filled with non-judgmental support, something which some of the members may have never experienced before. Communicating openly and honestly then allows companionship to be formed. These bonds become very important support structures throughout the addict’s recovery and once formed, we see major changes in the therapeutic space. Members are more comfortable sharing their stories, confronting or questioning others, as well as being more sensitive to the way they provide feedback. Through this we see shame reduction, accountability, reality checks, maturity growth and strengthening identities, all of which are skills the addicts can take home with them for the rest of their life.

With the use of confrontation, affiliation, support and identification, the addict begins to understand their disease, and it is through truly understanding it that they are able to identify the changes needed in their life. It is often a misconception that addiction can be cured by attending rehab and abstaining from substances, however, addiction is present in almost every part of someone’s life. From the way they think, the way they interact in relationships, to relying on substances – a recovering addict has to work on every part of themselves in order to succeed. Through providing, observing and accepting feedback within the group setting, addicts are developing the skills needed to identify addictive behaviour, in not only themselves but others as well, on an ongoing basis.

Another reason behind group therapy being pivotal in the addiction recovery process, is that it mimics communities in the outside world. There are often members of the group who do not see eye to eye, have clashing personalities or who remind one another of someone else in their life. While it might not look beneficial to have members of the group who do not get a long, it often proves to be a major aspect in their recovery. It is a very normal and real thing to come across people in life that you do not agree with and therefore, it is a vital skill for an addict to learn how to cope with this without substances. Within the group setting they are able to develop the skills needed to work through conflict in an appropriate manner, via the guidance of the qualified practitioners running the group. Through this they learn how to express themselves in a healthy way as well as understand that sometimes you have different views and ideas about things, and that is okay. In cases where members of the group remind each other of people in their lives, it gives them the chance to work through underlying emotions and develop the skills to express themselves appropriately so that their loved ones can understand them better.

Group therapy not only enhances communication skills, but also reduces isolation through the means of creating a community that addicts feel they belong to. Enabling addicts to witness the recovery in others provides them with hope and excitement for a better future. It is a common belief that we match the energy of those we surround ourselves with, thus, for addicts to be surrounded by other addicts all wanting to recover – creates a culture of recovery. In this we see positive peer support and pressure to abstain. With the formation of a community, the addicts are also able to foster healthy attachments as well as provide and receive positive peer reinforcement. All of this helps prevent addicts from feeling the loneliness that is so detrimental to them. With the help of the community, they can work through their troubles and heal from their traumas that cause their negative emotions. They are no longer surrounded by people who do not understand them, but rather people who have walked in their shoes and are experiencing the journey along with them.

There are many benefits to group therapy which make it an important component of addiction recovery. Whether it is communication, companionship, insight or a reality check, one thing is for sure – group therapy promotes growth and provides an opportunity to develop lifelong skills. This is why at Genesis Treatment Solutions; we integrate multiple group sessions daily.

References

Burson, N. (2019, August 13). The benefits of group therapy. Grace Recovery. https://gracerecovery.com/the-benefits-of-group-therapy/

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2005). Substance abuse treatment: Group therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64223/

Griffin-Shelley, E. (2018). The importance of group psychotherapy for sex and love addiction recovery. In T. Birchard & J. Benfield (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of sexual addiction (pp. 181–189). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Twerski, A. J. (2009) Addictive thinking: Understanding self-deception. Simon and Sehuster.

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